MRR Review: "Trance"

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A fine art auctioneer mixed up with a gang joins forces with a hypnotherapist to recover a lost painting. As boundaries between desire, reality and hypnotic suggestion begin to blur the stakes rise faster than anyone could have anticipated. James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel & Rosario Dawson star.
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MRR Review: "Trance"

-- Rating: R (sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, language, some grisly images)
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: March 27, 2013
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller

The opening moments of "Trance" have Simon (James McAvoy) explaining in detail how the ritzy art auction house he works for protects against potential theft. He makes a very convincing case for selling art there, with no hint of the fact that he is the inside guy for criminal mastermind Franck (Vincent Cassel). He has devised a plan with Franck to steal a very expensive Goya painting that is being sold at auction, which will net him a tidy sum of money.

The plan goes terribly awry when Simon hides the painting, but he can't remember where because he has been hit in the head by Franck. All that remains is the frame from which the painting was cut and a bad head injury that initially lands Simon in the hospital. Franck's associates think the amnesia is a racket, but what choice do they have but to wait and see if he regains his memory? If they kill Simon, they'll never get access to the backroom of the auction house again, and they'll never find out what happened. They don't have much time and Franck isn't known for his patience, so he devises a plan to try and jar Simon's memory and complete the heist. Franck begins with torture, but Simon reveals nothing, leading the thieves to believe that perhaps he is telling the truth after all.

Enter Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist who is smart and attractive. Franck insists that Simon begin having sessions with her in order to try and find out what happened. He bugs the room where Elizabeth conducts the sessions, listening in as Elizabeth and Simon delve deep into his memory, revealing a few things Simon probably didn't want Franck to know. He is also listening as they work around their attraction to one another, which brings about a few pangs of jealousy in Franck, who is also very attracted to the beautiful therapist. Simon begins to remember things, but not all of them relate to the heist. He begins to question what he recalls, wondering if he is remembering what actually happened, or what he thought happened. Each time it looks like things might get sorted out, a new twist is introduced that puts Elizabeth and Simon in peril.

The entire cast is superb, with McAvoy doing his usual fantastic job and Cassel snearing as the ruthless, yet seductive villain. The real jewel of the cast though is Dawson, who is equal parts strong and vulnerable as Elizabeth. She has incredible chemistry with both McAvoy and Cassel, which further thickens the plot and adds loads of tension and suspense to the proceedings. This is arguably her finest work on the screen, and it feels like she is only getting better with each role. She takes the characters and the audience down a rabbit hole, and everyone seems fairly eager to go.

Director Danny Boyle combines mind-bending drama with a handful of red herrings to make a film that is every bit as maddening as it is entertaining. Just when the audience thinks they have it all figured out, the circumstances on the screen get shuffled and the characters get turned on their heads. It will take close observation in order for viewers to try and figure out what is going on or how it will all end, and even then, they might not succeed. This is definitely not one of the mindless popcorn action thrillers that usually get released in spring and summer, but it is just as exciting. The excitement is mostly cerebral here, which makes "Trance" something of a thinking man's thriller.

Boyle had initially been given the script for "Trance" some twenty years before he finally made the film. Joe Ahearne was the writer, but he also wanted to get into film directing, and he thought that "Trance" would be his first directorial effort. Boyle thought that the complex material might be too much for a first-time director, so he backed out of the project. Years later, Ahearne would direct a made-for-TV version starring Sam Callis and Christopher Cazenove. Despite the fact that the film had already been produced, Boyle never forgot about the script, which he really loved. He decided he wanted to try and film a version for theatrical release, but he was busy producing the 2012 London Olympics opening festivities. He went back to the film after all that hoopla and came up with the brilliant new ending that will thrill viewers. Most films that get shelved for twenty years aren't worth making, or become outdated during the long waiting period. "Trance" is definitely not outdated. In fact, it seems almost timely in today's frantic, occasionally mindboggling world.

Rating: 4 out of 5